Bryn Mawr Classical Review 94.02.02


Richard Hillier, Arator on the Acts of the Apostles: a Baptismal Commentary. Oxford Early Christian Studies. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. £47.50. ISBN 0-19-814786-4.


Reviewed by Ian G. Tompkins, Board of Classical Studies, University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

The Historia Apostolica, a verse commentary on the Acts of the Apostles composed by the sub-deacon Arator and first published in Rome in 544, was a popular text in mediaeval Europe, as the complex manuscript tradition attests. However, when reviewing McKinlay's edition of the text in 1954, M.L.W. Laistner commented acerbically that it was "not a poem likely to find many readers today" (AJP 75, 210). This harsh criticism has been refuted by the appearance in recent years of an English translation by R.J. Schrader in 1987, and of several articles and studies, to which may now be added a monograph by Richard Hillier published by the Clarendon Press, which is based on the author's Durham University doctoral thesis. H. is concerned with a number of passages in the HA which exemplify Arator's interest in baptismal imagery. His central thesis is that Arator's emphasis on baptism goes beyond the confines of the text of Acts, for baptismal interpretations are frequently introduced which are not obviously justified by the biblical text. H.'s thesis is well presented, and he has certainly made a good case for this important characteristic of Arator's exegesis.

H.'s study begins with two general chapters in which he first sets the publication of the Historia Apostolica in its historical context (1-19), and then provides a general survey of Arator's interest in the themes and imagery of baptism (20-52). The following six chapters are concerned with the analysis of seven sections of the HA where this interest is manifest. H. discusses the sense of each passage, and explores the history of the exegesis of these themes and images in earlier Christian writers. Thus, in chapter 4, Arator's commentary on the story of Simon Magus is set against the context of earlier discussions of this passage such as John Chrysostom, Catech. 5.21 (76), Jerome, Altercatio Luciferani et Orthodoxi 22 (77-78); and Augustine, In Evangelium Ioannis Tractatus 6 (76, 81-82, 85-86, 89). Perhaps the most interesting discussion is found in chapter 8, in which H. identifies a possible link between Arator's image of the aged eagle that gazes into the sun, absorbing its renewing heat, and then casts off its old age in a pool (2, 28-46), and the account of the eagle in the Physiologus Latinus 8. H. suggests that Arator is the only writer of late antiquity to show knowledge of the story of the eagle as told in the Physiologus, for Augustine, Cassiodorus, Dracontius, and Prosper record a different tradition in which attention focuses on the growth of the eagle's beak which causes the bird to starve (187-188), while Ambrose, although he interprets the image of the renewed eagle in baptismal terms, "was unaware of the Physiologus account, or ... chose to ignore it" (192). On the Physiologus, see M. Wellmann, "Der Physiologos: Eine religionsgeschichtlich naturwissenschaftliche Untersuchung", Philologus Supplementband 22.1 (1930), 1ff, B.E. Perry, PW 20.1 (1941), 1074-1129, and P. Cox, "The Physiologus: a poiesis of nature", Church History 52 (1983), 433-443.

In his critical edition of the text, A.P. McKinlay provided a full critical apparatus which included a vast number of parallels in other Christian and pagan writers, and since his work, there has been some discussion regarding the poem's sources. Arator has usually been considered within the context of Christian Latin poets, such as Juvencus, Dracontius, and the Paschale Carmen of Sedulius. See in particular, J. McClure, "The biblical epic and its audience in late antiquity", Papers of the Liverpool Latin Seminar Third Volume, ed. F. Cairns, ARCA 7, Liverpool, 1981, 305-322 (which H. does not include in his bibliography), M. Roberts, Biblical Epic and Rhetorical Paraphrase in Late Antiquity, ARCA 16, Liverpool, 1985, and N. Wright, Eranos 87 (1989), 51-64 (Wright finds 7 certain parallels between Sedulius and Arator, 9 possible allusions, and 26 possible echoes).

The chief significance of H.'s study is that Arator is now placed within the context of major theological writers, particularly Augustine and Ambrose, rather than poets such as Sedulius. Thus, the Index Locorum includes eighty-three references to Ambrose, and sixty-two to Augustine, but only one to Juvencus, two to Dracontius, and six to Sedulius. In several chapters, H. identifies works of Ambrose and Augustine as the clear source for Arator's ideas. Thus, Arator's treatment of the account of the ascension in Acts 1 shows "a clear debt" to Ambrose, De Fide 4.1.6-10 (58), but the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia are also a possible influence (67). As we have seen, Augustine's writing on John "without doubt is the source of Arator's exposition" of the story of Simon Magus (76, cf. 82, and 85: "Again the influence of Augustine is evident"), while he is here also possibly influenced by Sedulius, Pasch. Carm. 1, 171-2 (80), and by Augustine's C. Faustum 12.20 (82), and Enarr. in Ps. 130.2 (86: "beyond doubt"). Arator's account of the healing of the paralytic of Acts 9: 32-35 draws on Augustine, Enarr. in Ps. 83.2 (137: "Arator's dependence on Augustine is clear"). However, in contrast, H. discusses at length the exegetical traditions concerning the Ethiopian eunuch and the Ethiopians in general (92-121), but no source for Arator's ideas is here clearly identified, while aspects of Arator's account of the Jerusalem council of Acts 15 show similarities to passages of Theodoret and a Jewish interpretation rejected by Jerome (146-147), although this line of argument is not developed by H. Other aspects of this section of Arator's narrative clearly draw on Gregory of Elvira (150). Sedulius is grudgingly admitted as Arator's source for a minor aspect of his exposition of the crossing of the Red Sea at 2, 40-95 (179), while Prudentius is another possible source (161, n.20), although in the rest of this chapter, no other particular sources are identified (151-179). After such claims concerning Arator's theological sources, H.'s conclusions are strangely tentative. The possible importance of oral and liturgical traditions is briefly raised (194-195). Similarities to works of Augustine and Ambrose "would seem to argue more than merely casual acquaintance" (195). A discussion of whether Arator may have known Greek is appended as an afterthought (196), while H. then disowns "the quest for Quellenforschung" (197). These somewhat ambivalent conclusions do not sit easily with the more confident assertions of the earlier chapters. H.'s identification of the theological sources for Arator's writing would have been helped if these findings had been set within the wider context of the influence of Augustine and Ambrose upon other Christian Latin writers of the fifth and sixth centuries. It would, for instance, be interesting to know whether Sedulius was as influenced by Augustine as Arator appears to be.

There are a number of other studies that may be added to the bibliography in addition to those mentioned above: R. Anastasi, "Dati biografici su Aratore in Ennodio", Miscellanea di Studi di Letteratura cristiana antica, Catania, 1947, 145-192; S. Blomgren, "Ad Aratorem et Fortunatum adnotationes", Eranos 72 (1974), 143-155; H. Brewer, "Arator der Verfasser zweier Inschriften, die De Rossi in die Zeitung nach Papst Damasus verlegte", Zeitschr. für Kathol. Theol. 46 (1922), 165-169; M. Inguanez, "Frammenti di Aratore in fogli di guardia Cassinensi del Secolo XI", Archivum Latinitatis Medii Aevi 4 (1928), 153-155; M.P. McHugh, "Arator", Encyclopaedia of Early Christianity, ed. E. Ferguson, New York and London, 1990, 80; T. Mommsen, "Ostgothische Studien", Gesammelte Schriften, vol.6, Berlin, 1910, repr. 1965, 362-484 (originally in Neues Archiv der Gesellschaft für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde 14 (1889), 225-249, 453-544, and 15 (1890), 181-186), esp. 403-404 (=183-184) (on Arator's secular career); N.A. Porter, "Arator", Dictionary of the Middle Ages I (1982), 422; J. Schwind, Arator-Studien, Hypomnemata 94, Goettingen, 1990. Other reviews of McKinlay's edition not mentioned by H. are J.G. Préaux, Latomus 12 (1953), 332, A.F. Stocker, Classical Philology 51 (1956), 40-42, and J.H. Waszink, Mnemosyne 4.6 (1953), 257-259. McKinlay composed other studies not mentioned by H.: "Membra disiecta of manuscripts of Arator", Speculum 15 (1940), 95-98; "Studies in Arator, II -- The classification of the manuscripts of Arator", HSCP 54 (1943), 93-115; "Latin commentaries on Arator", Scriptorium 6 (1952), 151-156. McKinlay's article from HSCP 43 (1932) is correctly titled "Studies in Arator: I. The manuscript tradition of the capitula and tituli". McKinlay's monograph from 1942 concerning the manuscript tradition of Arator was published in the series Mediaeval Academy of America Publications No. 43. Some general studies related to themes discussed in this monograph are D.L. Miller, "The two sandals of Christ: descent into history and into hell", Eranos Jahrbuch 50 (1982), 173-178 (on bestial imagery of jaws of hell), H. Rahner, "Antenna crucis VII: Die Arche Noe als Schiff des Heils", Zeitschr. für Kathol. Theol. 86 (1964), 137-179 (on Noah and baptism), and H. Schreckenberg, "Juden und Judentum in der altkirchlichen lateinischen Poesie", Theokratia 3 (1973-5), 81-124 (on Judaism in Latin poets). On the Christian Latin poets Avitus and Sedulius, see W. Ehlers, "Bibelszenen in epischer Gestalt: Ein Beitrag zu Alcimus Avitus", Vig. Christ. 39 (1985), 353-369, and C.P.E. Springer, The Gospel as Epic in Late Antiquity: the Paschale Carmen of Sedulius, Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 2, Leiden, 1988 (an important monograph). In the latter study, see esp. 5ff, a consideration of whether Sedulius' poem is to be considered a paraphrase. S. rejects Roberts' use of this classification. Sedulius' main inspiration was Juvencus (18-19), while Prudentius was also a major influence (62); note also 71-95, a consideration of Sedulius as biblical epic, esp. 84-86: Springer argues that A.'s work is to be seen as meditatio rather than narratio. Thraede's study of 1961 may now be found in RLAC Supplementband 4 (1986), 553-573.

Some detailed comments may be appended. p.36, n.27: 1, 622: H. retains fluit; Blomgren, 144, prefers manat. p.49: 2, 664-665, concurrere gaudent | in latices intrare pios maculasque vetustas: Wright, 57, finds a clear parallel in Pasch. Carm. 1, 54-55. 2, 666, fonte lavare novo: Roberts, 153, compares 1, 114, and Pasch. Carm. 5, 421. p.53: 1, 21, iamque quater denis dominus manifesta diebus: Wright, 58, finds an echo of Pasch. Carm. 2, 175 (other echoes of Pasch. Carm. cited by Wright, 58-62, concerning passages discussed by H.: 2, 87 from 1, 59; 2, 242 from 3, 40; 2, 797 from 3, 138; 2, 820 from 1, 307-308; 2, 1014 from 5, 407). 1, 33: for tollitur, J. Fontaine, JAC Suppl. 9 (1982), 66, compares Pasch. Carm. 5, 423ff. p.58: Ennodius, Hymnus de Ascensione Domini is also Carmina 2, 13. p.69: translation of Gregory, In C.C. 3,1, add "to us" to last line. p.73: 1, 635: A. Hudson-Williams, Vig. Christ. 7 (1953), 91: prefers a comma after furor rather than a question mark. H. retains McKinlay's punctuation. p.81, n33: Cuicul is in Numidia (see P.A. Février, in Princeton Encyclopaedia of Classical Sites, ed. R. Stillwell, 1976, 249-250). pp.92-93: 1, 672-707: this is one of the few pericopes in the Historia Apostolica not concerned with Peter (the chief subject of Book 1) and Paul (the chief subject of Book 2) (Roberts, 113). 1, 682: H. and Schrader, Vig. Christ. 42 (1988), 76 prefer magistrum to McKinlay's Magistrum: the reference is to Philip not Christ. p.105: third line of translation of Cassiodorus, Expos. in Ps. 73.4: "began" rather than "begin". pp.122-123: 1, 759-761: clear use by Arator of Sedulius Pasch. Carm. 3, 98-102, for same conceit present in both (Roberts, 138-139). 1, 771-772: cuius vox: the voice is Peter's not Christ's (Roberts, 179, n.53): this is implied by H.'s translation. p.139: 2, 250, omnesque iubet de fonte renasci: Roberts, 178, n.50, compares Juvencus 2, 193 and Pasch. Carm. 5, 291. p.140: 2, 294, naturae sub lege iacet: Wright, 57, finds a clear parallel in Pasch. Carm. 2, 5. p.150: quote from Gregory of Elvira: ibi ... ubi which G. uses twice should be translated as "there ... where" rather than "then ... when". p.175, n.74: Gregory of Elvira, Tract. Orig. 15.13 should be 15.10.p.179: quote from Cassiodorus, Expos. in Ps. 80.6: "out of the side of the Lord" rather than "out of the Lord"; quote from Pasch. Carm. goes only to 5, 292 not 294. p.181: 2, 537-538: Hudson-Williams, 95, changes McKinlay's punctuation, inserting a comma after aestus and deleting the comma after vadum, followed by Waszink, Vig. Christ. 8 (1954), 90, and now H., 182, n.1. (Thus also Blomgren, 147-148). p.182, n.1: 2, 545: H. follows Waszink's change (91) of manentibus to manantibus. (Thus also Blomgren, 144-145). p.187: the quotation from Cassiodorus, Expos. in Ps. 102.5: "the rock which is Christ" is preferable to "wherein is Christ". Bibliography (201-208): page nos. for the edition of Alcimus Avitus have been omitted (197-214). Cassiodorus, Complexiones in Actos Apostolorum is mentioned in the bibliography but is not cited in the text. Cassiodorus, Variae should be cited from CCSL 96, 1973, ed. A.J. Fridh. Dracontius, De Laudibus Dei should be cited from edition by C. Moussy and C. Camus, 2 vols., Paris, 1985 and 1988. Prudentius should be cited from edition by M.P. Cunningham, CCSL 126, 1966, rather than the Loeb edition. Cunningham's numbering of the Tituli Historiarum differs from that in the Loeb. A.S. Walpole (ed.), Early Latin Hymns, Cambridge, 1922, should be added to the bibliography of sources. Index Locorum (209-216): the title of Ambrose's hymn should be Intende qui regis Israel, not rex. The index is restricted to Christian authors alone. It will be clear from the above comments that H.'s arguments have under-emphasised the influence of Sedulius upon Arator.